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Armando Barbon

Posted: April 4, 2005
} Armando Barbon By Robert Amos The sculptor unwound the plastic wrap which keeps his clay moist, revealing a life-sized man, confidently stepping onto the emigrant ship. His piercing gaze is fixed on the future. Behind him, in high relief, his wife and children are wrung with the pain of separation. The subject - and the author - of this dramatic ensemble is Armando Barbon. Moulds will soon be made of the sculpture, and it will be cast in wax, later to be made in bronze. For one day only, Barbon is opening his new studio to visitors, in answer to his many friends who have been wondering "what is Armando up to?". Barbon grew up in Torino, north of Venice, and recalls statues in the church which he attended as a child. "As I looked," he told me, "I felt them coming close to me, and I thought "maybe some day..."". But that post-war time was not right for those dreams. At the age of 27 he took the giant step and came to Canada. His wife and two little children followed five months later. At first it was hard work for him in construction. His wife worked at a delicatessen. When that deli went out of business, Barbon traded his house for the store and set to work building North Douglas Distributors, a vigourous and successful food wholesaler. Barbon continued: "I decided I didn't want to die in my office." Four years ago he sold the company to Sysco Enterprises. On a subsequent holiday in Italy, he intended to study singing, but a sore throat put paid to that idea. He then applied to a professore who allowed him to work in his sculpture studio. The curriculum was mainly copying, and except for eating and sleeping, Barbon was incessantly at work on the marble. In the intervening years, he has returned four times for three-month sessions at Pietrasanta, the world centre of marble carving. The learning is endless, and being away from his family is a strain. So Barbon has created an extensive and well-equipped studio in Victoria. To proceed with his education and his projects, he has twice brought the finest sculptors from Pietrasanta to join him here as "artists in residence". It is traditional for artists to work with professional sculptors, who help to scale up their ideas and provide technical expertise in the execution. At the moment, Gabriele Vicari is hard at work at Barbon's studio. The vision behind each sculpture is entirely Barbon's, and he made the maquette. He and Vicari have built an armature and created the full-sized sculpture together, novice learning from the master as they go. "I see the job finished," Barbon told me, "but I need a driver to help me get there. I can be a good student but I am not a maestro. We learn every time we work." Leaving Vicari to his efforts, we toured the warehouse which Barbon purchased for his studio. "It is in my blood to do things and treat them as a business all the time," he explained, when I expressed my amazement at the vast, skylit space. "This could be seen as a business - but it's not!". Barbon has so many of his own ideas that he has no time for other people's commissions. As a student himself, he will not make this a school for other sculptors. The numerous blocks of white Italian marble, the mirrored drawing studio, the workshop and the tools driven by compressed air are there entirely for his use. "I could have done with half the space," he admitted, but buying the entire building was just good business. Working in another studio in the complex is Linda Lindsay, a singularly skilled figurative sculptor whose bronzes are on show in Victoria at Winchester Galleries. Like many a sculptor, Lindsay has had a long career, her artistry only limited by technical constraints. When Barbon asked "are you interested in being my associate," Lindsay admits she was "flabbergasted!". On the day of my visit she was hard at work on a life-sized figure of woman in a graceful pose, which represents The Spirit of Victoria. Barbon was eager to show me his new marble fountain surmounted by a nude, and also the bronze of he and his wife entwined, just a few of the sculptures which are beginning to fill his showroom. His sculpture is part of a long-standing tradition, one where "found objects" and ironic social critiques have no place. You may view his Italian inspiration as kitsch or classicism - it's of no concern to Armando Barbon. He's doing exactly what he wants to do. Barbon's Studio 37 is located at 800 Cloverdale. It will be open for one day only, on Saturday, March 19 from 11 am to 4 pm. ___________________________________________ Copyright © 2005Robert Amos Robert Amos is an artist and art writer who lives in Victoria, B.C.. He can be contacted by e-mail and you can view his paintings at